This is threatening to become long.
I never post writing here because that would be a little too self-indulgent but. Here’s a bit of something that’s wanting its own novel/research project oh ho ho ho I just want to read about the Dutch Resistance forevah, la.
They missed the war by two weeks. When the news finally reached them in their mountain isolation, kicking a football around by the blank-surfaced lake, the youngest of them shook and cried at their misfortune. The sergeant, who had been told he was too old for the army, sat with the ball cradled in his lap and stared up at the cloudless blue sky. He could not help but wonder, blocking out the sounds of dismay echoing in the low valley, if it was possible for a messenger to be mistaken – a human misprint. There was nothing surrendered about the quiet green place where they had spent the last fourteen days under the impression that there was a Queen and Country to defend.
The boys to whom he, Theo van Kelner, was an unlikely father at age thirty-four needed a good deal of consoling on the rainy march back to Tilburg. A few talked wildly of desertion, but Theo snapped at them for being ridiculous and kept them in line as their lieutenant, gloomy Rolf, led them out of the woods. It was not in his nature to raise his voice, but the notion of surrender made them all irrational and on edge. They all so dreaded seeing their first enemy occupier that when they did, a drab helmet grumbling the other way on a motorcycle, half of them did not believe what they had seen and the regiment descended into petty squabbles and shoving. Theo was privately glad to be rid of them the next day when they reached Tilburg and were told they’d been officially disbanded for weeks now. It hurt him to see how quickly they had dissolved.
He set off for Haarlem on the train with what little money his kit had fetched and a change of civilian clothes begged off a churchwoman, the sleeves and trouser legs several inches too short for his hopelessly tall, whippet-lean frame. On the train, he was snide to a police officer who snarled at him not to try that shit with the Germans, man, if he knew what was good for him, and slammed out of his compartment. He did not know, he supposed, tracing on the fogged window with a fingertip. He was putting off having to learn.
Frieda met him at the station. She wore her best red dress, a wedding hat, and black nylon stockings – not because she wanted to impress him, she explained matter-of-factly, which made him grin with missing her company, but because her house had been bombed out and they had only rescued so much. She took him past the place where they had played as children, an ancient, rambling wood-and-stone thing smashed into itself and scarred black around the edges. Theo felt her watching closely as he stared.
‘But everyone got out okay?’
She nodded. ‘It was the strangest thing. We’d all gone to church for the first time in years – we were out when the bombing started.’
‘An act of God.’
‘Did the military get you believing in God, then?’ She shook her head at his wry silence, and they stepped over the scattered bricks and walked on.
It was unsettling to be home among so many people, especially when that which had been routine before he left was now in a state of total upheaval. Theo mostly kept to himself, repairing bicycles in the back garden and letting his parents be as they fretted and argued about politics. Bits of conversations would float unbidden out the back window; he found he did not want to know, and hummed over them all as Mama screeched into an escalation and Papa pitched a quick succession of points. It was their business and he was only a houseguest, by rights – he was resolved to keep his own business simple.
‘Is this how you’ll spend your war?’ Frieda asked one day when she stopped by to visit, looking incredulous at the ramshackle grease of the garden shed. Surveying it as well, Theo was struck by the notion that perhaps his war would never begin at all.